Editor, Safety & Health Practitioner

Author Bio ▼

Ian joined Informa (formerly UBM) in 2018 as the Editor of Safety & Health Practitioner. Ian studied journalism at university before spending seven years in online fantasy gaming.

Prior to moving to Informa, Ian worked in business to business trade print media, in the automotive sector. He was Online Editor and then moved on to be the Editor of two publications aimed at independent automotive technicians and parts distributors.

December 6, 2019

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Grenfell Tower fire

Grenfell Tower fire: London Fire Brigade condemned for ‘serious shortcomings’ in its response

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report, has heavily criticised the response of The London Fire Brigade (LFB) citing ‘serious shortcomings’ and ‘systemic failures’.

Hackitt interim report72 people were killed by the fire that engulfed the Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington, West London on Wednesday, 14 June 2017.

The 24-storey tower block burned throughout the day, taking firefighters over 24 hours to get it under control, leading to confusion and uncertainty that lasted for days.

In the 1,000-page document, which will be officially published today, enquiry Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick states that fewer people would have died, if the LFB had taken certain actions earlier.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the report “gives the victims the truth,” and that the world “is finally hearing the truth about what happened.”

Issues highlighted in the report include:

  • A lack of training in how to ‘recognise the need for an evacuation or how to organise one’;
  • Incident commanders ‘of relatively junior rank” being unable to change strategy;
  • Control room officers lacking training on when to advise callers to evacuate;
  • An assumption that crews would reach callers, resulting in ‘assurances which were not well founded’;
  • Communication between the control room and those on the ground being ‘improvised, uncertain and prone to error’;
  • A lack of an organised way to share information within the control room, meaning officers had ‘no overall picture of the speed or pattern of fire spread’;

Click here to read the The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report in full.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick issued the following statement, on publishing the report.

In response, the LFB said it would “carefully and fully consider all of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 report and take every action we can to improve public safety,” but that it was “disappointed” by some of the criticism of individuals. It also added disappointment that “measures we have been calling for are not in the recommendations, including the wider use of sprinklers in both new and existing buildings”.

On the night of the fire, the London Fire Brigade received an unprecedented number of 999 calls, but the report calls their operation beset by “shortcomings in practice, policy and training”. It said that call handlers were not always obtaining necessary information from the calls to ascertain where in the building the call originated from. It also says that some handlers were not made aware of what to tell residents in terms of when to evacuate.

Sir Martin says that operators were “not aware of the danger of assuming that crews would always reach callers”, stating a lack of lessons learnt from the 2009 fire at Lakanal House.

On 16 September 2019, it was revealed that, as part of the investigation into the fire, The LFB had been interviewed under caution by police. The interviews were conducted voluntarily, “as a body, rather than an individual” in relation to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the fire service said.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said that the fire service recognised the need for answers by survivors and the bereaved. She said that hundreds of LFB staff and volunteers had already provided interview voluntarily and that they would continue to assist the investigation.

“We must all understand what happened and why to prevent communities and emergency services from ever being placed in such impossible conditions ever again,” she added.

Ms Cotton herself was not exempt from criticism, regarding her evidence to the public inquiry in September 2018. She told the hearing that she wouldn’t change a thing about the LFB’s response to the fire. The report said she showed “remarkable insensitivity” and a lack of willing to learn lessons from Grenfell.

With news that hundreds of buildings still have ‘unsafe’ cladding, a number of fire safety experts were asked, ‘Grenfell Tower: Have lessons been learned two years on?‘ They discussed whether, two years on from the worst residential fire in living memory, there has been an adequate cultural shift – in government, the construction industry and among responsible persons – and whether this will persist.

Andy Roe to replace Dany Cotton as head of London Fire Brigade

Andy Roe London Fire BrigadeIn December 2019 Ms Cotton stepped down from the role, four months ahead of her planned retirement date. Following the public inquiry into Grenfell, she faced several calls to resign, with Grenfell United saying that a change at the top would ‘keep Londoners safe’.

Ms Cotton, who said said Grenfell Tower was “without doubt the worst fire” the London Fire Brigade has ever faced, has worked on “some of the most painful incidents to have occurred in LFB’s history” during her 32 years with the service, including the Clapham Junction rail crash in 1988 and the fire which gutted the iconic Cutty Sark in 2007.

On 12 December 2019, The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, appointed Andy Roe as London’s new Fire Commissioner. The appointment follows ‘a comprehensive international recruitment process’, according to a statement from the Mayor’s office. Mr Khan praised Ms Cotton’s career, but said her decision to leave was ‘the right one’.

A Former British Army officer, Andy brings a wealth of experience dealing with major incidents and having operational command from his time the army, as well as during his career with the LFB, where he has worked since 2002, progressing through the ranks as a firefighter – initially at Clerkenwell and West Hampstead.

Sadiq Khan, said: “Keeping Londoners safe is my number-one priority and I’m determined to do everything I can to ensure we have a fire and rescue service that is the best in the world. Andy Roe is a hugely experienced firefighter and I’m really pleased to have appointed him as London’s Fire Commissioner.”

Andy Roe, said: “It is an enormous privilege to be offered this opportunity to lead London Fire Brigade into a new decade.

“We have some real challenges ahead, but I’ll be working tirelessly with the Brigade, the Mayor and London’s communities to ensure we deliver on the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report. I’m looking forward to leading the Brigade through a period of transformation and delivering a workforce that truly reflects the diverse city we serve.”

British Safety Council response to the fire

Commenting on the findings of Phase 1 of the inquiry, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, said: “This is a lengthy and detailed report and the industry will rightly take time to digest its details. However, it is clear there were serious shortcomings in the procedures for evacuating Grenfell Tower and in the readiness of the fire brigade, notwithstanding the individual heroism of the firefighters on the night.”

He went on to say: “As we look ahead to Phase 2 of the inquiry, lessons must be learnt about the choice of materials used to clad Grenfell Tower and the regulatory regime for high-rise buildings. As we said at the time of the fire, we urge all politicians to re-emphasise the need for effective health and safety regulation and competent fire risk management. These are fundamental to saving lives and sustaining our communities.

“Our thoughts must be with the families of the victims and the survivors of that tragedy. This detailed and important inquiry could not have taken place without their willingness to relive the horror of 14 June 2017. We can honour the victims’ memory by making sure that this tragedy can never happen again.”

The British Safety Council welcomes recommendations of the report relating to proactive fire door inspections, enhanced firefighting lift inspections and a significant increase in the provision of information to the fire enforcing authority.

James Lewis, Head of Audit and Consultancy at the British Safety Council, said: “In course of our extensive work with owners and managers of property, we have seen countless examples of failure to maintain fire safety standards at the required levels. All too often, we see fire doors left un-managed and damaged, a resistance from building owners and operators to communicate and cooperate with the fire enforcing authority, as well as failures to provide suitable and sufficient information to buildings’ occupiers.”

The British Safety Council welcomes the following recommendations from the executive summary of the report and calls for the government to consider their implementation:

  1. Section 6, A and B – Legal requirement for the provision of up-to-date plans to the local fire and rescue service and provision of premises information boxes,
  1. Section 7, A and B – Legal requirement for enhanced checks of firefighting lifts and provision of information to the local fire and rescue service,
  1. Section 12, D – Provision (for all existing and future buildings) for the local fire and rescue service to send an evacuation signal to all residents of high-rise buildings,
  1. Section 15, 33:28 – Legal requirement for owners and operators of every residential building to provide information and instruction to residents in a format that can be reasonably understood by all,
  1. Section 16, A and B – Urgent inspection of all fire doors of every residential building which contains separate dwellings, as well as a legal requirement to inspect fire doors on a quarterly basis.

Grenfell Tower inquiry

In the days that followed the tragedy, Prime Minister at time, Theresa May ordered a public inquiry into the devastating blaze. “Right now, people want answers. That’s why I am today ordering a full public inquiry into this disaster,” said the PM whilst visiting the scene. “We need to know what happened, we need to have an explanation of this. People deserve answers; the inquiry will give them.”

A criminal investigation was also opened to examine whether building regulations had been breached when the block was refurbished, while then-Communities Secretary Sajid Javid set up an Independent Expert Advisory Panel (IEAP) to report on what measures could be implemented to make buildings safer.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan commented shortly after that the fire was a “preventable accident” caused by “years of neglect” by the local council and successive governments and demanded a “national response” to the tragedy.

In the phase one inquiry report, it said that the external walls of the tower failed to comply with building regulations. This area of the tower was the focal point of the refurbishment work in 2016.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick said that there was ‘compelling evidence’ that the walls did not “adequately resist the spread of fire”.

“On the contrary,” he added, “they actively promoted it.”

Download: A technical guide to sprinkler systems

Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 and consisted of 120 flats and also included communal facilities. An £8.6-million refurbishment of the block took place in 2015/16 and the bottom four floors were extensively remodelled, adding nine additional homes.

Reports at the time suggested that residents of Grenfell had raised concerns about fire safety in the flats going back many years but they were ‘disregarded’. Rydon Construction, which carried out the refurbishment work, is reported to have said that it “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”

Following refurbishment work, completed in 2016, London Fire Brigade gave the tower block a ‘medium’ fire risk rating but the resident’s group continued to make claims about fire safety worries.

Grenfell Tower fire cause

In the year since the tragedy, investigations into the cause and response to the fire have been ongoing.

The ongoing public inquiry, launched by its Chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick in August 2017, received hundreds of thousands of documents and hundreds of applications to be core participants. Oral evidence and findings from expert reports began to be heard in June 2018.

In May 2018, Dame Judith Hackitt, a former Chair of the HSE, delivered her final recommendations following her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Hackitt concluded that indifference and ignorance had led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices and expressed the need for a “radical rethink of the whole system and how it works”. This included recommendations for recommends a “very clear model of risk ownership” and an “outcomes-based” regulatory framework, but did not recommend an explicit ban on combustible cladding.

Following the report’s publication, the government said it would consult on banning combustible cladding. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire added that ministers will also look to ban the use of desktop studies to assess the performance of external cladding systems based on the BS 8414 test.

The cladding used on housing is one of the primary focuses of scrutiny following the Grenfell fire. An estimated 800 high rise buildings across the country use similar cladding to that found in Grenfell Tower. A number of tests into cladding have resulted worrying results: Javid said in September that of 173 high-rise social housing blocks fitted with aluminium cladding, only 8 passed fire safety building regulations.

It was revealed in March that only seven of the 158 social housing blocks in England with dangerous cladding have had the material completely removed. The government announced in May that it will fund a £400-million operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.

Also under scrutiny was the standard advice to tenants of blocks of flats that they are safer if they stay in their accommodation than to leave, unless it is their flat which is on fire.

Latest articles:

Barbour Download: A Technical Guide to Sprinkler Systems

There is no general legal requirement for sprinkler systems to be installed in a place of work but there may be circumstances where sprinklers are required.

This guide provides an overview of the need-to-know information for sprinklers and covers:

  • The legal requirements
  • More information about sprinkler systems
  • Key actions
  • Key terms
  • And more

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Safetyladypaul obrienNIGEL EllertonStephen WorrellEfim Rabinovitch Recent comment authors
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Andrew Tootell
Andrew Tootell

First of all, my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones and those who have loved ones missing. The main purpose of the fire risk assessment is prevention of the fire starting in the first place, this is very difficult in the housing sector as occupants will carry out daily activities that could result in fire such as cooking/smoking etc. In addition to this, there are fire risks associated with electrical items and most recently the fire risk associated to tumble dryers; it is this area that is weak in the fire risk assessment as landlords… Read more »

Celine Garcia
Celine Garcia

My sincere sympathy to all the families who lost loved ones in this fire. What a tragedy. It never should have happened Never…. Interesting to see what caused the fire as it raged as an inferno. Perhaps its time for all large buildings to have a safety officer particularly with the amount of people in a building such as this, I mean a 24/7 safety officer. Its too early to say what cause the fire so we wait to hear the investigations. We need to take steps that this never happens again. I pray for the victims and their families.… Read more »

Gliceria R. Derrota
Gliceria R. Derrota

An establishment of more than 40 years is high risk of fire. I believed that Grenfell Tower residents have been doing fire drill, However, I also want to understand that when stock in the middle of this type of disaster some people will not remember what they have learned. Maybe the following could help; * A thorough training for fire high risk places should be done often as they could. * Fire safety training/awareness should be very specific and should at least consider designations of who will run towards the alarm, which will run towards the fire hydrant/fire extinguisher etc.… Read more »

Safetylady
Safetylady

Sorry – this is just not a viable suggestion or solution..
We have to accept that fires do happen – obviously prevention is the first step, but the containment and limitation of a fire is critical for ‘defence in depth’.
Putting fridges, and everything else electrical, onto a database (only Housing Associations?) would make no contribution to reducing risk, even if it was remotely feasible.
Build safe and sound premises with effective and functioning protective measures – as was the original building. Then keep them like that.

Heather Foster
Heather Foster

Lots of questions, apart from the cladding – was the compartmentalisation compromised during the refurbishment? I understand that the heating and hot water system was changed to be a communal one, that may mean drilling holes through walls and were they properly sealed with correct intumescing sealant – was ducting properly sealed. What was the fire alarm system, was there one, can we see the Fire Risk Assessment for the building? Really only one way in and out of the building? I feel for the residents, their families and friends, this will be with them forever, horrific. I hope we… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley

Rydon Construction, who carried out the work, are reported to have said that it “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”- HOW CAN THIS BE TRUE?

David Buchanan
David Buchanan

It’s all guesswork and speculation at the moment and we have to rely on the relevant authorities to find the truth.
If however, as was reported, the contractor believes it used approved materials and it turns out that the cheaper non fire retardant material was in fact used used this will narrow things down a bit. It could lead to an individual employee or an unscrupulous supplier, or a combination of the two colluding to make a few grand on the side. Let’s hope it was nothing so reckless.

Jack Lee CMIOSH , BA (Hons)
Jack Lee CMIOSH , BA (Hons)

The silence from the Health & Safety Executive is deafening . Grenfell Tower must have been a CDM nominated project . There must have been notification to the HSE on Form 10 .The will be a pre-tender HSE Plan and of course the chain of responsibility CDM requires . Could it be that if this cladding does appear to be a root cause of the fire escalation , who approved it? The advice to stay in the flat would have been good advice if the design of the original building had not been changed by the addition of the cladding… Read more »

paul obrien
paul obrien

I agree jack and am somewhat shocked that the hse are so quiet on such a tragedy, It was a notifiable project construction work, so who were the principal designers, who was the cdm co ordinator , This horrific event that killed so many people was preventable if the cdm regulations were applied and followed, The information, guidance and tools were there to design out any risks at the design stages of the project, Really this is a scandal arrests should already have been made

Lyndsey Wicks
Lyndsey Wicks

Firstly – My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families affected by this horrific disaster. Absolutely heartbreaking this fire should never have happened and could have been preventable – lessons need to be learnt so that this horrific disaster never happens again. All people involved in the decision making of the recent refurbishment need to be brought to task and made accountable for their actions and the decisions they made. The investigation needs to look at the decision makers throughout the whole process right from the top down through management/councils/Building Inspectors/Planning Officers and down the chain to the… Read more »

peter Tanczos
peter Tanczos

I suspect most of those with duties incumbent under CDM2015 are very worried this morning. We might not ever get to the bottom of it, such as which “designer” or “person acting as as a designer” specified the non fire resistant cladding? I always recommend using “critical decisions register” when you don’t have clear lines of respnsibility or your Client buys a guard dog but insists on barking themselves.

Simon Wiltshire
Simon Wiltshire

It is my understanding that there were approximately 500 people living in the building. The number of people missing and/or presumed dead has been grossly understated. Using good transparency, quality and safety management I look forward to the outcome of the upcoming investigation and the legal proceedings that will undoubtably occur. May there never again be such a horrific and needless tragedy.

Barry
Barry

Unfortunately I cannot agree with many of the comments below because it is too early at this stage to make these judgements.

What evidence is there of ‘corporate manslaughter’?

Training isn’t going to help if you are fast asleep and don’t hear the alarm.

The speed the fire spread was one of the major factors from what I have seen, and the lack of containment.

Until the findings have been made and the risk assessment compared to those findings and recommendations to see exactly what happened we can only assume, and you know what that means.

Efim Rabinovitch
Efim Rabinovitch

Like everyone else I am totally devastated by the inferno at Grenfell Tower and my thoughts are with those who have been affected.

I am also shocked to hear from the former Chief Fire Officer that “politicians stonewalled action to tighten building regulations”, adding: “They always seem to need a significant loss of life before things are changed.”

Stephen Worrell
Stephen Worrell

One cannot fail to be moved by the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower, the faces of families at burning windows begging for their lives and the lifelong scars that the tragedy will leave with survivors and their families. Let us also not forget, the fire fighters and emergency crews who once again have been called upon to perform the impossible, a task they carry out with such selfless bravery repeatedly entering the hell of a major fire in a desperate attempt to save lives. These heroes too will be haunted by thoughts of those they could not save. These blocks… Read more »

NIGEL Ellerton
NIGEL Ellerton

Why are high rise flats not fitted with compulsory sprinkler systems. It was obvious despite the heroic effortsof the fire service that fire equipment couldnt reach the upper floors.